Welcome back! After a summer of unplugging from school work while I worked at a summer camp, I am back and ready to jump into a new year, with a new grade level, and a new leadership role added to my portfolio! More on that in another post… Today’s post is in response to one of the summer book club books.
Each June, we dedicate a small chunk of time during our Pre-Pre Planning PD day to have a book tasting for a summer book club. The idea is that we hear a snippet about a few different books and then we must pick one (or more!) to read over the summer. Once we return for Pre-Planning at the end of August, we meet in smaller groups based on our book choices and have a book club discussion.
The book I selected is Because of a Teacher, written and curated by George Couros. I was drawn to this book for a variety of reasons; a colleague read it last school year and was extremely inspired by it, I was feeling like I needed a bit of inspiration to get me out of the covid-funk, and… it was going to ship to me the fastest!
The book is broken into three sections, Who Is a Teacher Who Inspired You and Why? Who Is an Administrator Who Inspired You and Why? and What Advice Would You Give to Your First-Year Teacher Self?, with each one of these sections being filled with stories from educators. In the introduction, George Couros encourages readers of the book to think about these guiding questions and the educators who have impacted their lives. While reading the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would answer the questions stated above… so let’s give it a shot!
Who Is a Teacher Who Inspired You and Why?
Have you seen Matilda (1996)? If you have, I am sure you remember Miss Honey. Miss Honey was the kind, welcoming, warm, and engaging teacher. Like her name stated, she was sweet as honey. I was lucky enough to learn from a real-life Miss Honey when I was in Grade 2. Seriously… friends of mine still refer to this teacher as our very own Miss Honey. Grade 2 was a long time ago, but I remember this teacher’s class like it was yesterday. I can recall spelling lessons, class spirit days, and large projects about who we admire the most (I did my project about my grandfather, on gold bristol board!). This teacher made everyone feel welcome and like we belonged. This teacher had an impact on my childhood and will forever be remembered as my favourite teacher.
…but the story does not stop there.
This teacher and I have come full circle, as now she is my colleague and friend! (Yes, it took 3 years for me to go from calling her Mrs. Bennett to Julie, but I finally got over that). This is an educator who changed my life as a child and inspired me to try my best in class, and now, she is continuing to inspire me as a mentor and collaboration partner in my career as a teacher. Last school year, I had the honour of being the Grade 2 teacher in the classroom right next to Miss Honey, I mean Mrs. Bennett. She was my biggest cheerleader, mentored me, and was always a shoulder to lean on when things felt tough. We created a morning routine of texting each other well before the sun came up to encourage healthy routines with fitness. Our morning chats became a highlight of my day and having my accountability partner right next door to my classroom was even better! I feel so fortunate to be able to have an adult relationship with this woman who had a tremendous impact on my childhood. I am constantly inspired by the way she continues to carry herself in our school as a leader with such a calm presence. I was a better student then, and I am a better teacher now, because of Julie.
Who Is an Administrator Who Inspired You and Why?
This is a tough one. The easy answer is, an administrator who inspires me is Justin Shulman. Why him, you ask? Well that’s what makes this tough… Can’t I just say “because he’s the best”?
Justin is a principal with the in the Ottawa Carleton District School Board. While this is not the school board that I work for, him and I have been working very closely the last two summers as the Assistant Directors of a sleepaway summer camp. Working so closely (literally sharing a camp office) has provided us with ample amount of time to discuss things about work, teaching, beliefs, strategies, etc. but we have also been able to see each other in action when working with campers and their parents. I am constantly in awe of the way that Justin approaches situations and the way he speaks with the children at camp. He is able to sense exactly what is going on and how to handle challenges as they arise. Simply watching Justin in action with the campers or hearing him on the phone in order to partner with parents is inspiring, however, he doesn’t stop there. Over the last two summers, Justin has guided me and mentored me as I shifted into my Assistant Director role at camp, as well as I continue to develop my skills as an elementary school educator. Although it was not in his job description at camp to be my mentor, he so easily slid into those shoes and provided me with support while navigating new and challenging situations while always celebrating my successes.
Through some of our office chats this summer, we were both reminded that Justin was actually the first administrator to ever hire me – fresh out of teacher’s college! Around the time of my Bachelor of Education graduation, Justin was the principal for a Jewish Sunday School that was looking for a new Kindergarten/Grade 1 teacher. While I was excited about starting my teaching career, I was quite nervous and intimidated to work for such an experienced educator while I was so new to the field. Justin encouraged me to jump out of my comfort zone – if for no other reason than just to put the teaching experience on my resumé. Well let me tell you, I gained a lot more than a bullet point on my resumé… I learned so much about setting up a classroom for behaviour management and supporting students from Justin.
Overall, Justin has had a tremendous impact on my life as a camp director and educator. I believe that a large part of my passion for Special Education and supporting children with exceptionalities comes from many years of watching Justin while I was a camp staff and of course, working alongside him as an assistant director. He brings so much to the table with his knowledge and expertise, calm demeanor, and openness to collaboration. I think it is quite telling that Justin is able to continue to inspire me as an educator while I am not even working for him in a school setting. I am very grateful for my relationship with Justin and I know that he will keep inspiring me for many years to come! I feel inspired to keep developing my skills and growing as an educator, because of Justin.
What Advice Would You Give to Your First-Year Teacher Self?
You have the power.
Don’t let your age or inexperience hold you back from believing that you have the power to make a difference in a child’s life. You do not need to be a seasoned veteran teacher in order to have an impact on your students’ lives. They are always watching you, looking up to you, and learning from you. Build relationships with your students, like Miss Honey did, and start shaping these tiny humans.
In order to care for others, you must care for yourself.
I have always been someone who has a hard time with the whole work-life-balance thing. I love to be working and I love to do my best. I believe this is a positive skill set that I bring to the table… however… I think that first-year-teacher Lianna needs to be reminded that a little bit of work-life-balance goes a long way. For example, every Sunday does not need to be spent in the school in order to be a great teacher and parent emails do not to be answered at at 7pm when you are sitting at the dinner table or at 11pm when you should be getting into bed. Luckily, these are lessons I have learned over the years. While I still love to work non-stop, I have carved out more time in my life for my own self-care (workouts, puppy walks, date nights, netflix binging, etc) so I can be the best possible version of myself when I show up for my students.
There are many other educators and even administrators who have inspired me over the years. While I am aware of the already lengthy blog post, I must name my current Head of School, Jon Mitzmacher, as an administrator who inspires me. Jon is playing an integral role in shaping me from a B.Ed student into an educator and teacher leader. His school leadership is largely what drives my excitement about professional development. It has been incredible to watch him inspire and push teachers who have been in the field for 20+ years to try new things and learn new technologies. I am grateful that Jon sees something in me and is taking his time to help grow me into the educator and leader that he believes I can be.
If you have not read this book yet, I highly recommend picking up a copy and diving in. The stories in this book were light-hearted and brought a smile to my face. It was truly a fantastic read to get inspired before kicking off a new school year!